Unmasking another case of Waymaker deceit

I knew I had dodged a dumdum bullet almost three years earlier when I walked out of Waymaker. I already had some idea what I might have become had I let them bend my brain. But for at least the third time, one of my former compatriots had taken advantage of a desire to maintain something approaching a normal friendship.

That was the only plausible explanation for how Elaine Danielson blatantly lied to me about how she’d been quoted in an article for the DTH. It looked like she’d assumed I’d simply take the word of a fellow Spirit-filled believer. If that was the case–and it sure looked like it was–then at some point Elaine had stopped seeing me as a friend and seeing me as a potential notch in her Bible. In other words, she’d fully embraced the prevailing mentality in Waymaker.

Whenever I saw examples of this, I thought back to something that happened the first time I set foot at TCF/KPIC. We had loaded up Perry’s van to get ready to head back to Chapel Hill when Perry had to break up a fight between two of his charges in the youth ministry. He spent somewhere around 10 to 15 minutes talking with them.

It was a sign Perry cared about them individually. Rather than simply bundle them off to their parents and let them handle it after a cursory conversation, he actually took the time to talk to them. That was what made his dismissive attitude about Pastor Ron hiding his Maranatha past hard to understand. You would think a guy who cared enough about the well-being of the kids in the youth ministry would know that continuing to do Pastor Ron’s bidding put the Waymakers’ futures at risk–and in turn, put him, Danielle, Morgan, Aaron and Rita in great legal danger.

The Waymakers’ “so what?” reaction to Pastor Ron’s deceit was the first of many signs I’d seen during my sophomore year that they took a transactional approach to friendships and other interactions. It looked like they saw nearly every opportunity under the sun as a potential chance to preach at someone, slip them a tract, etc. And apparently all was fair in doing so.

A week after Labor Day, I got a revealing reminder of just how deep this mentality ran. I spied a printout of an email near the Undergraduate Library, but when I was about to throw it away, I noticed it was an email to the Waymakers’ listserv. Marina Delton had forwarded a message from Denise Mason about a new program to help foreign exchange students find friends at Carolina. Denise giddily mentioned how this was a potential bonanza to win them to Jesus.

The implication was obvious–they saw this as a possible opportunity to funnel these kids into Waymaker and KPIC. I knew that they saw telling people about Jesus as the ultimate act of friendship. But to take advantage of internationals in this way? They were no different from vultures.

Fortunately, the contact information for the program was in the email. I wasted little time setting up a meeting with the person in charge of the program. She assured me that this was not something that she intended her program to be, and assured me she would nip it in the bud. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Denise walked into a meeting, only to find her own words essentially wadded up and thrown at her.

To my mind, this was yet more evidence this bunch had to be taken down. This was as blatant a case of deceit as I’d ever seen from them.  If all went well, I was now just a few weeks away from starting the process of effectively putting Waymaker and KPIC out of business.

Advertisements

Taken advantage of by someone I thought was a friend

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve been here. But due to a crazy amount of overtime at my day job, I haven’t a lot of time. It’s too bad, because when we left off, I was chronicling how I was about to start my junior year at Carolina–and possibly sue Waymaker out of existence.

When I saw that Waymaker was indeed back in business, I knew the clock had started ticking. I’d hoped to at least start the process of hauling Waymaker and KPIC into court. Given that I could prove at the very least that Perry and Danielle Burkholder, Morgan Bates, and Aaron Levinson had known Pastor Ron had lied about his past in Maranatha and had no possible good-faith reason to do so. No matter how fundified the Waymakers’ parents may have been, it was inconceivable that they would be at all okay with the kind of deceit that was SOP in Waymaker.

Throw in that Perry and Danielle had turned Waymaker over to Morgan, Aaron and Rita Hamer in order to focus on their duties as KPIC’s youth pastors, and it was a no-brainer. People who were okay with fostering an environment in which the deceitful and hurtful tactics I’d seen were at all acceptable were the last people who should be anywhere near kids. This church had to go down.

Just a few days after the start of spring semester, I got a sobering reminder of what I had almost become. If you’ll remember, late in my sophomore year I’d harbored hopes of retaining a friendship with Elaine Danielson, a freshman I’d met when I burrowed back into Waymaker. She didn’t seem like she was anywhere near as deluded and fanatical as my fellow sophomores. I thought I’d blown it when I asked her why she didn’t feel like she’d been growing in InterVarsity before making her way to Waymaker, only to have her go off on me. But we started talking again after spring break, and was actually happy to find out I’d spoken in tongues.

That’s why I had been somewhat taken aback while perusing the DTH over the summer. Elaine had been interviewed for an article profiling how different students felt about how drinking affected their religious commitment. She had been quoted as saying that respect for other religions took a back seat to Godliness, but claimed she had been misquoted.The author of that article happened to be a friend of mine as well. I’d asked her about it at the time, and she stood by her story.

Something didn’t add up. I compared Elaine’s words in that article to a letter to the editor she’d written a few months earlier in defense of Alveda King, Martin Luther King’s niece. She’d come to Carolina in February, and claimed that God hated homosexuality and loved “victims of racism and homosexuals.” The tone of the letter was identical to how she was quoted in the later article.

I let this stew over the summer. But just to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me, I compared the two again a few days before classes. I couldn’t believe it. Elaine was blatantly lying to me.

So for the second time in at least a year, it looked like one of my former compatriots in Waymaker was trying to play me for a sucker. If you’ll remember, early in my sophomore year, Allison Millstein just happened to remember to ask me if I wanted to go to KPIC sometime when one of her “brothers” happened by.

This seemed no different. The most benign interpretation was that Elaine must have thought that since I was now Spirit-filled, I’d take her word for it since she was a Spirit-filled sister. Oh, she don’t know me very well, do she? I thought. I felt betrayed. I’d wanted to remain friends with her, and this was the thanks I got?

I felt like calling her and letting her have it, but realized that in the mood I was in, it was very likely I’d say something that could come back to bite me later. So after I calmed down, I emailed her and told her in no uncertain terms that unless she stopped playing this two-faced game, I wanted nothing to do with her.

When I hit “send,” I felt something lift off of me. I realized what little fear I had of them had disappeared. I’d given my “brothers” and “sisters” an earful in the Hinton James lobby late in my freshman year, but something in me at the time still asked, “Am I doing the right thing here?” I’d also harbored some hope at the time of still being friends.

But no such worries existed anymore. What Elaine had done had completed my education about this brand of fundamentalism as far as I was concerned–and removed any illusions of being friends with them. After all, they never saw me as a friend, but as a potential notch in their Bibles. So soon afterward, I fired off emails to several of my other former “brothers” and “sisters” telling them how I felt about their deceitful and hurtful games.

So what next? Well, I suspected that it wouldn’t be long before they tried something–so it was best to sit and wait. Wouldn’t you know, I was right. More to come later.

Back to campus

When I returned to Chapel Hill to start my junior year, I was looking ahead to a lot. I was getting into the nitty-gritty of working in my major. I was also seriously considering a run for student body president. But foremost on my mind, I believed I was going to have a chance to stick a dagger in the back of Waymaker and KPIC.

At some point in the fall semester once I figured out how my classes were going to run, I planned to approach Student Legal Services about possibly hauling KPIC into court. To my non-lawyer’s mind, it looked like an open-and-shut case. After all, at best, I could prove that Perry, Danielle, Morgan and Aaron were willing to do Pastor Ron’s bidding even after being told that he was lying about his past in Maranatha and had no possible good-faith reason for doing so.

In so doing, they put their church, and themselves, in great legal danger. And in so doing, they sounded a lot like Hitler’s generals did on the stand at Nuremberg, who knew Hitler’s orders were illegal and obeyed them anyway. Likewise, it was inconceivable that Perry, Danielle, Morgan and Aaron didn’t at least ask themselves whether what they were doing was wrong. Unless they could explain why they continued to do Pastor Ron’s bidding despite knowing about his deceit, to my mind they didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Then consider the matter of Loretta’s parents. What would they think if they found out that Morgan had gotten their daughter into a situation like this? Any parent with any kind of love for their daughter would have been on the road from Charleston to Chapel Hill in roughly the time it took me to write this sentence. And that’s before we even discuss the possibility of the parents of my former “brothers” and “sisters” hitting the ceiling once this became public.

As usual, Myers Park was sending a small army to Carolina. Since it was now apparent that Waymaker would be around for longer than I expected, I felt the need to warn them. Looking in the student directory, I was able to find out where the Waymakers lived on campus so I could warn my friends. I also sounded the alarm with my suitemates in Granville, all of whom were freshmen. One of them mentioned seeing an advertisement for Waymaker on the kiosk near the Student Union. While on the way to buy my books for the semester, I took a peek for myself–and there it was.

Admittedly, I still was nervous about pulling the trigger on a lawsuit. But any doubt in my mind evaporated when I learned that Perry and Danielle were no longer leading Waymaker. Instead, they were devoting their full attention to KPIC’s youth ministry. I was appalled. Those two had, at the very least, fostered an environment in which the deceitful and hurtful tactics I’d seen in Waymaker could have even occurred. It was outrageous enough when Perry and Danielle were doubling as both KPIC’s youth pastors and leaders of Waymaker. But to go full time as youth pastors? The thought that they could have any influence on the Triangle’s kids was just obscene. Even with what I knew about fundie culture, it seemed hard to believe that too many of KPIC’s parents would be at all okay with their kids being within an area code of Perry and Danielle once the truth about what happened in Waymaker came out.

So I decided that sometime in late September, I’d have a chat with Student Legal Services and get the ball rolling on suing them. From where I was sitting, I thought this would be over quickly. Little did I know that I wouldn’t even get the chance to make that move.

Mind control, fundicostal style: Part 4

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve spoken up here. But with the lunacy coming from Capitol Hill, I’ve been squeezed for time to say the least.

When we were last here, I was in the midst of unwinding how the Waymakers used out-and-out brainwashing in their attempts to turn me into one of them. Back in 1997, while I was still trying to get my head around how the Waymakers bent my brain, one of my Ex-Tian compatriots sparked a discussion about Robert Lifton’s book about mind control techniques, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” Lifton listed eight signs that brainwashing–or “thought reform,” as he called it–was being used to control people. Check them out at the resource page for REVEAL, a group of former members of the Boston Movement. In sum, they are:

  • Milieu control: the control of the environment and information within that environment
  • Mystical manipulation: Experiences and emotions are made to appear spontaneous when they have actually been orchestrated
  • The demand for purity: The world is divided between the “pure” and “impure,” with everything outside the group seen as “impure.” Members must change to conform to the norm and remain pure.
  • Confession: Sins and faults are confessed publicly, and used to exploit members.
  • The sacred science: The group’s doctrine is considered the ultimate truth, and no truth can be found outside of it.
  • Loading the language: Using words or phrases in a way that outsiders don’t understand, in order to conform thoughts to the group’s way of thinking.
  • Doctrine over person: All personal experiences are reinterpreted in light of the group’s ideology, with all contrary experiences interpreted so they can be fixed around the ideology.
  • Dispensing of existence: All outsiders are seen as unenlightened and must be converted or rejected by the members.

Several of the members recalled how their hyperfundie churches often used some of these same tactics. When I looked back, I was stunned to find myself checking items off the list. It reminded me that I had dodged a dumdum bullet.

I thought I could outline how the Waymakers played this game in one post, but it became readily apparent that one post wouldn’t nearly be enough–or readable. In Part 1, I talked about how they used milieu control and mystical manipulation as part of their mind-bending. In Part 2, I discussed how they combined the demand for purity with confession as part of that effort. In Part 3, I talked about their sacred science.

Here, I want to talk about three characteristics that seemed to be melded into one–loading the language, doctrine over person, and dispensing of existence.

Just like Newspeak in 1984, words seemed to acquire completely different meanings in Waymaker. It actually started from the time I first met Perry. When I said I believed in God, he replied that it wasn’t enough to believe in him, but you need to obey him.

In a related concept, the Waymakers blanketed campus with posters talking about how “living a victorious Christian life at UNC is hard.” It turned out their ideas of obedience and a victorious life were a life entirely out of balance–and anything less than that was considered lukewarm. 

I suspected early on that they didn’t see people around them as people, but as potential notches in their Bibles. Moreover, they didn’t accept people for who they were, but for whom they wanted them to be–or as they put it, whom God wanted them to be. I found that out in spades after I walked out on them. Early in my sophomore year, when I told one of my former “sisters,” Allison Millstein, that I didn’t even believe in God anymore. As if it went in one ear and out the other, Allison actually asked for my number in case I wanted to go to church with them. And she’d done so just as one of the guys in Waymaker I put two and two together and realized this came just 24 hours after finding out my replacement as Waymaker’s problem child, Christina Roland, had become a 200 percent rabid fundicostal.

I’d suspected long before then that the Waymakers didn’t really care about me at all as a person. Or at least, they cared about the Darrell they wanted me to be, rather than the Darrell I was. But this confirmed it. It also confirmed that I was not like them and could not be like them.

I received further confirmation when I burrowed back into Waymaker later that year. I was told that my wariness about them came because I allowed the devil to use my mind to pull me away from God. Waymaker and KPIC appeared to be holding onto an old Maranatha line that you can’t trust your mind at all because the devil has corrupted it. In their eyes, the only way to really do Christianity is to do so with your heart.

Uh huh. So my sinful nature was what made me realize the Waymakers were trying to turn me into someone I wasn’t a year earlier. And my sinful nature made me try to warn them that Pastor Ron was lying to them. And on, and on, and on.

I knew I’d dodged a dum-dum bullet 20 years ago. But it’s quite another thing to see it confirmed. Looking back on it and seeing exactly how they almost pulled me in still sends a chill down my spine.

 

 

 

Mind control, fundicostal style: Part 3

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve spoken up here. But between the craziness with the shutdown and overtime at my day job, I’ve been squeezed for time to say the least.

When we were last here, I was in the midst of unwinding how the Waymakers used out-and-out brainwashing in their attempts to turn me into one of them. Back in 1997, while I was still trying to get my head around how the Waymakers bent my brain, one of my Ex-Tian compatriots sparked a discussion about Robert Lifton’s book about mind control techniques, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” Lifton listed eight signs that brainwashing–or “thought reform,” as he called it–was being used to control people. Check them out at the resource page for REVEAL, a group of former members of the Boston Movement. In sum, they are:

  • Milieu control: the control of the environment and information within that environment
  • Mystical manipulation: Experiences and emotions are made to appear spontaneous when they have actually been orchestrated
  • The demand for purity: The world is divided between the “pure” and “impure,” with everything outside the group seen as “impure.” Members must change to conform to the norm and remain pure.
  • Confession: Sins and faults are confessed publicly, and used to exploit members.
  • The sacred science: The group’s doctrine is considered the ultimate truth, and no truth can be found outside of it.
  • Loading the language: Using words or phrases in a way that outsiders don’t understand, in order to conform thoughts to the group’s way of thinking.
  • Doctrine over person: All personal experiences are reinterpreted in light of the group’s ideology, with all contrary experiences interpreted so they can be fixed around the ideology.
  • Dispensing of existence: All outsiders are seen as unenlightened and must be converted or rejected by the members.

Several of the members recalled how their hyperfundie churches often used some of these same tactics. When I looked back, I was stunned to find myself checking items off the list. It reminded me that I had dodged a dumdum bullet.

I thought I could outline how the Waymakers played this game in one post, but it became readily apparent that one post wouldn’t nearly be enough–or readable. In Part 1, I talked about how they used milieu control and mystical manipulation as part of their mind-bending. In Part 2, I discussed how they combined the demand for purity with confession as part of that effort.

Here, I want to talk about Waymaker’s sacred science.

The sacred science

Waymaker grafted a lot of lunacy onto a charismatic/Pentecostal base. Like most charismatics, they were very much into the gifts of the Spirit and praise and worship. The impression that I got, though, was that they seemed to think anything less than being hyped up was lukewarm. Telling us when to raise our hands, ordering us to cheer after every song, the lot.

I shouldn’t have been surprised in hindsight. After all, KPIC’s statement of faith at the term considered the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be among the “essentials of the historic Christian faith.” I’ve since found out that, on paper, this is way, way, way outside mainstream charismatic thinking. Charismatics believe in the gifts of the Spirit, but also believe that having a relationship with the giver–God–takes precedence.

Sadly, though, I’ve found out over the years that this imbalance is actually SOP for many hypercharismatics. They think that non-charismatic churches are “dead churches.” For instance, Rachel in “Jesus Camp” harrumphed that non-charismatic churches aren’t really “churches that God likes to go to.”

However, Waymaker seemed to go way beyond even that imbalance. I saw that in spades with their willingness to condone some of the most despicable tactics in the name of getting people to join up. As we’ve already seen, the Waymakers hid a lot about who they really were, knowing that they wouldn’t have lasted six minutes in Chapel Hill had more people known their true nature.

It could initially have been chalked up to sincerely believing they were doing good–not unlike how Palpatine turned Anakin to the dark side by convincing him that the Sith were good and the Jedi were evil. For instance, when I was coming back from work as an intramural ref and saw one of my former “sisters” handing out flyers for that night’s Waymaker meeting. I told her that this was bad news, and she replied, “How can anything be bad about doing God’s work?”

But they no longer had that excuse once I told them how Pastor Ron had hidden his Maranatha past. Incredibly, they were still willing to do his bidding. The only explanation I can think of that makes any kind of sense is that they wanted to be part of what God was doing in the Triangle–and as long as God was moving, nothing else mattered.

How else do you explain how they were willing to condone Christina Roland being hectored like a pesky mosquito? I still remember how sickened I felt at the thought that I was supposed to be happy for her to have been saved–knowing she’d been essentially hounded into being saved.

Even now, more than two decades later, it still blows my mind–especially since I didn’t just tell them that I thought something was wrong. I told them that there was something wrong, gave them proof Pastor Ron was lying about his past. Was it so important to get people saved that they were willing to condone that? Apparently so.

That’s a big reason why when Trump rose up and the religious right stayed all-in for him despite his outrages, I felt like I was in a time warp. The religious right only seems to care about rolling back abortion and marriage equality and getting conservatives on our courts–and Trump’s debauched and potentially treasonous behavior be hanged. Likewise, the Waymakers were hung up solely on getting people roped in–no matter how many people got hurt. If your cause is so important that you have to throw basic decency out the window, something is bad wrong.

 

Mind control, fundicostal style: Part 2

Back in 1997, while I was still trying to get my head around how the Waymakers bent my brain, one of my Ex-Tian compatriots sparked a discussion about Robert Lifton’s book about mind control techniques, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” Lifton listed eight signs that brainwashing–or “thought reform,” as he called it–was being used to control people. Check them out at the resource page for REVEAL, a group of former members of the Boston Movement. In sum, they are:

  • Milieu control: the control of the environment and information within that environment
  • Mystical manipulation: Experiences and emotions are made to appear spontaneous when they have actually been orchestrated
  • The demand for purity: The world is divided between the “pure” and “impure,” with everything outside the group seen as “impure.” Members must change to conform to the norm and remain pure.
  • Confession: Sins and faults are confessed publicly, and used to exploit members.
  • The sacred science: The group’s doctrine is considered the ultimate truth, and no truth can be found outside of it.
  • Loading the language: Using words or phrases in a way that outsiders don’t understand, in order to conform thoughts to the group’s way of thinking.
  • Doctrine over person: All personal experiences are reinterpreted in light of the group’s ideology, with all contrary experiences interpreted so they can be fixed around the ideology.
  • Dispensing of existence: All outsiders are seen as unenlightened and must be converted or rejected by the members.

Several of the members recalled how their hyperfundie churches often used some of these same tactics. When I looked back, I was stunned to find myself checking items off the list. It reminded me that I had dodged a dumdum bullet.

Last week, I began outlining how the Waymakers played this game with me. I initially thought I could do it all in one post, but for the sake of readability I thought it would be better to do multiple posts. Read part 1 here, in which I talked about how the Waymakers used milieu control and mystical manipulation. Here, I’ll discuss how they used the demand for purity and confession in their attempt to pile-drive me into a round hole.

As always, names in italics are pseudonyms.

The demand for purity and confession

The more I look at it, these two criteria were more or less melded into one with the Waymakers.

Waymaker was really hung up on outward things and outward appearances. In a lot of respects, this emphasis conflated with how they tied up our time. Their idea of a “victorious Christian life” was a life almost completely without balance. Church on Sunday, weekly meetings on Monday, Bible study on Thursday–and everything else be hanged.

For instance, when I opted to attend the 1996-97 home basketball opener rather than a Waymaker meeting, Eric Syfrett wondered why I was willing to put a basketball game above “spending time with God.”  And even now, it still blows my mind how Eric disdainfully wondered about my priorities when I wanted to study for exams rather than go to church during exam week.

Waymaker’s idea of purity manifested itself in another way–hyper-conformity. I saw this when Loretta Tyson told me that a Christian can’t be pro-choice on abortion. It was brought home even more brutally soon after that, when Susan Van Arsdale warned that being saved meant junking everything that didn’t match with the Bible without so much as thinking about it–and implied my salvation depended on it. Two decades later, I’m still struck at how simplistic this thinking was.

The emphasis on external stuff also manifested itself via their use of what I’ve since learned is a very common kick in the groin used by abusive churches–Revelation 3:16 (“So because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth”). In their world, anything less than hyped-up and in-your-face was lukewarm. In essence, their idea of a “victorious Christian life” amounted to running in the red all the time. And what happens when you run in the red all the time?

For much of my first semester in Chapel Hill, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my “brothers” and “sisters”–especially the other freshmen–were watching me. It was no secret that I didn’t completely buy in. As they saw it, they just wanted me to become the Darrell God wanted me to be. They talked a lot about how God changes you. But in my gut, I got the impression that when that kind of change happens, you should at least be able to recognize yourself while it’s underway. After all, if you don’t seem real to yourself, how will anyone else think you’re real? Indeed, the only time I didn’t really feel like I was being watched was during fall break.

For much of my semester in Waymaker, the Bible study topic was sins of the flesh. We often talked about how we felt “convicted” of certain things. It was part of what kept me in that bunch even when I was almost 100 percent convinced that I could not be one of them. Was that feeling really me, or just my flesh? Looking back, it was just another mental contortion that kept me in that bunch for six months.

I saw this even more when I burrowed back into Waymaker in my sophomore year. Two of my compatriots told me that the reason I’d been Waymaker’s “problem child” for much of my freshman year was that I was relying on my mind rather than my heart. Supposedly, a rational mind can’t comprehend simple truth, and for that reason Christianity can only be done with your heart.

As it turned out, this was a repurposed version of old Maranatha shibboleth. Maranatha taught that the fall of man corrupted our minds so much that we can’t trust them at all. There’s a name for this–brainwashing. Even now, I’m flabbergasted at how blatant this was.

Mind control, fundicostal style: part 1

As I was getting ready to return to Chapel Hill for my junior year, I was still trying to get my head around how the Waymakers had tried to bend my mind. After all, on paper, I was one of the last people who would get pulled into a hyperfundie, hypercharismatic campus ministry. Here I was, a guy with a reputation as an independent-minded fellow–and yet, I’d come within a whisker of becoming part of a hypercharismatic hive mind.

What mystified even more was that even when I realized they were trying to turn me into someone I simply could not be, it took me a few more months to get out. And as a result, I lost the first six months of my adult life. I sometimes say that I was a member of Waymaker for 180 days, and was probably lied to 180 times–at the very least. But how did I stay in there for so long?

I got an idea how they pulled it off in the fall of 1997, when one of my Ex-Tian compatriots sparked a discussion about Robert Lifton’s book about mind control techniques, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” Lifton listed eight signs that brainwashing–or “thought reform,” as he called it–was being used to control people. Check them out at the resource page for REVEAL, a group of former members of the Boston Movement. In sum, they are:

  • Milieu control: the control of the environment and information within that environment
  • Mystical manipulation: Experiences and emotions are made to appear spontaneous when they have actually been orchestrated
  • The demand for purity: The world is divided between the “pure” and “impure,” with everything outside the group seen as “impure.” Members must change to conform to the norm and remain pure.
  • Confession: Sins and faults are confessed publicly, and used to exploit members.
  • The sacred science: The group’s doctrine is considered the ultimate truth, and no truth can be found outside of it.
  • Loading the language: Using words or phrases in a way that outsiders don’t understand, in order to conform thoughts to the group’s way of thinking.
  • Doctrine over person: All personal experiences are reinterpreted in light of the group’s ideology, with all contrary experiences interpreted so they can be fixed around the ideology.
  • Dispensing of existence: All outsiders are seen as unenlightened and must be converted or rejected by the members.

Several of the members recalled how their hyperfundie churches often used some of these same tactics. When I looked back, I was stunned to find myself checking items off the list. It reminded me that I had dodged a dumdum bullet.

So in the next few days, I’d like to list the ways the Waymakers tried to brainwash me. As always, names in italics are pseudonyms.

Milieu control

Basically, this amounts to control or manipulation of the environment and information within that environment. This usually amounts to controlling what you see, hear and read.

As you’ve already seen, Waymaker was a massive time sink. You were expected to be at church on Sunday, weekly gatherings on Monday, and Bible study on Thursday–and everything else be hanged. What if there was a basketball game on Monday night? Well, apparently that wasn’t as important as “spending time with God.” And if you wanted to study for a test or an exam, it looked like your priorities were out of whack. Um, what were we there for?

Lifton also noted that groups that engage in milieu control often set up an “us against them” mentality. This went on a lot in Waymaker, where we were constantly told that our friends looked askance at us “because of what we believe.”

Mystical manipulation

When this happens, emotions are made to look like they happened spontaneously, even though they have actually been orchestrated to look spontaneous.

From what I saw in Waymaker, it seems that hypercharismatic outfits wrote the book on this one. During worship, we were told when to raise our hands, and pretty much ordered to shout and clap after every song. Without a doubt, the most egregious example of this came when Perry made us start singing all over again because we weren’t hyped up enough. Moreover, most of the songs simply repeated the same lyrics three or four times. I recalled from my psychology classes that repetition is a very common form of hypnosis.

The goal was obvious–to make it look like the Holy Spirit really was moving there. But in truth, the whole thing felt so stage-managed. As they saw it, if you could cheer at Kenan Stadium or the Dean Dome, you could do the same thing for God. I knew this was baloney, being a yeller and a screamer by inclination. No one’s telling us when to cheer at a game.

This sort of manufactured enthusiasm is what sticks out the most about the Waymakers when I think back about my time in that outfit. But mystical manipulation can take other forms as well.

It actually started on move-in day of my freshman year. Perry told me that he knew God had a plan for me, even though I’d never even met him before–because God told him so. The odds are pretty good that he approached a bunch of other freshmen who moved in that day in the same manner, with the same schtick.

Early in my sophomore year, when I told Allison Millstein I wasn’t even a Christian anymore, she actually asked for my number in case I ever wanted to go to KPIC. It was supposed to look like the Holy Spirit had led her to do that, in hopes that I would eventually be on my face at the altar. But the reality was somewhat less dramatic. It turned out she just happened to ask for my number when another Waymaker walked up to us. Something prompted her, all right–but nine times out of ten, it definitely wasn’t the Holy Spirit.

 

How had the Waymakers gone wrong?

As I girded myself to prepare to haul the Waymakers to court at some point in my junior year, I found myself asking a question that I’d found myself asking a lot over the last two years–how had these guys gone so wrong?

After all, there was every reason for them to be a force for good in Chapel Hill. They were the only even remotely integrated Christian group at Carolina, for starters. On the face of it, the answer seemed simple–they had been planted in the contaminated ground of Maranatha Campus Ministries. Obviously, Pastor Ron didn’t have the guts to open his eyes and fully renounce those abusive practices. The result was, for all intents and purposes, a watered-down version of what Pastor Ron had learned while studying at the knee of Maranatha’s founder and “apostle,” Bob Weiner.

You would have thought that the younger set, people like Perry Burkholder and Morgan Bates, would have seen that such tactics simply didn’t work. Especially Perry, since on paper he knew how it felt to be relentlessly hectored about being saved. When I replayed the phone conversation in which he tried to get me to pipe down, I had to convince myself I wasn’t hallucinating. Not only was this not the way a youth pastor with any iota of scruples would react, but I thought that anyone who had gotten into Carolina would remember the lesson of the Nuremberg Trials–there is no such thing as obedience to an order that you know is illegal. That should have made Perry realize that there was a point where whatever obligation he had to obey his “shepherd,” Pastor Ron, should have been null and void.

But while trying to make sense of how I could have gotten pulled into such an outfit, as well as what made these guys tick, I got the sense that the rot in Waymaker was rooted in something more than just an inability to get past their Maranatha roots.

Much of that came from watching TBN and INSP. It may seem surprising to anyone who considers Charlotte to be “the buckle of the Bible Belt,” but TBN had long been relegated to a low-power translator in the Charlotte area. One episode of TBN’s flagship program, “Praise the Lord,” showed a funeral at which Rod Parsley and Eddie Long were the speakers. They actually had an altar call there. I was absolutely dumbfounded. It would have been unthinkable to try and preach at someone at a funeral or a wedding. But then I remembered that for the bulk of TBN’s audience, this was standard operating procedure. After all, they considered telling someone about Jesus to be the ultimate act of friendship.

That reminded me of something I read in “Don’t Call Me Brother” by Austin Miles, a former ringmaster who became an ordained Assemblies of God minister, only to walk out in disgust when he saw the steaming pile of corruption that was SOP on Christian television in the 1980s. When he first got saved, his friend Bobby Wilkes told him that he was to carry his Bible openly and proudly. Otherwise, he’d be considered “lukewarm.” It came from Revelation 3:16, in which God tells believers he considers lukewarm rather than hot or cold, “I will vomit you from my mouth.” It’s long been used to justify the notion that anything less than in-your-face Christianity will get you left behind.

I also found myself watching Parsley’s program, “Breakthrough,” fairly often. His version of the sinner’s prayer included the phrase, “Satan, you are not my God.” It brought to mind something I’d heard a lot of fundies say–if you don’t serve God, you serve the devil.

Putting this together with what I’d seen from the Waymakers, I had a better idea why they engaged in their bully-boy tactics. For instance, the manner in which Christina Roland was essentially hectored into becoming a 200 percent rabid fundicostal. They didn’t see it as harassment. They saw it as the ultimate act of friendship.

I also remembered how many of the Waymakers likened me to the Apostle Paul when I burrowed back in and made them think I had really become one of them. Even now, I’m still dumbstruck by the lack of proportion. On what planet was speaking out against the Waymakers the same as actually having Christians killed? The same planet on which anyone who doesn’t believe in God is a closet devil worshiper.

Putting all of this together, it was apparent that the level of fanaticism in this bunch was off the scale. It was also apparent that they knew they wouldn’t survive had they told the truth about who they really were. I believed that if I could simply get the argument out there, the Waymakers and KPIC would realize it would be foolishness to let this get to court. But how was I to know that I wouldn’t even get the chance to make that argument at all?

A fight that I could win–if I got the chance

The more I thought about it in the summer of 1998, I was convinced that if I did sue KPIC for its deceitful and abusive tactics, I not only would win, but the case might not even make it to court.

Consider that I had obtained what seemed to be hard proof that KPIC had grown out of Carolina’s chapter of Maranatha. And also consider that once I told the Waymakers about this, the campus ministers and the rank-and-filers not only blew it off, but had no qualms whatsoever about helping Pastor Ron keep up this massive snow job.

What is more, I knew that, at the very least, the campus ministers were willing to turn a blind eye to harassing people into getting saved. Even now, two decades later, it still turns my stomach that while I was pretending to have turned from my “rebellion” and was now a 200 percent rabid Waymaker, I was supposed to have been happy for Christina Roland essentially being hectored into becoming a Christian.

What parent with any kind of love for their kids would stand for any of this, even if they were fundified themselves? I thought that if this got out, more than a few of the Waymakers’ parents would have told their sons and daughters, “We’re not sending one more penny to Chapel Hill if you stay in this.”

That would have especially been true of the out-of-state families. And one out-of-state family in particular–that of Loretta (Tyson) Bates, wife of Morgan Bates. If you’ll remember, I suspected that Loretta’s parents were pretty fundified. After all, this was a black woman from Charleston who supported Strom Thurmond, for God’s sake!

But I figured that Morgan would have had to expend almost all of his moral capital (such as it was) to convince Loretta’s parents to let him marry her.

I figured their counterparts at State, Duke and Central would follow suit–leaving KPIC’s campus ministry as an empty shell. Remember, KPIC’s model depended on funneling college kids in through their campus ministries. Taking that away would have been like sawing a leg off a three-legged barstool.

Moreover, if this got out, I figured KPIC would have been squeezed from another direction. While burrowing into Waymaker, I learned that KPIC had plans to build a new complex near Research Triangle Park, complete with a huge new sanctuary. So they were building a coliseum of a thing on the backs of people like me. Lovely.

But I figured it would be all for naught if the extent of their deceit got out. The all-but-certain outcry would have been enough to make any responsible banker run away.

Even with all of this to consider, I still had to remember that this was the best-case scenario. At worst, the campus ministers may have known before I told them that KPIC had once been part of Maranatha. I thought this was highly unlikely, given that it would mean that Morgan and his boss, Perry Burkholder, would have had to have hidden it from their fiancées. While they were deluded and fanatical, they were definitely not stupid. But I couldn’t rule it out altogether. After all, this was an outfit that not only condoned Pastor Ron’s deceit, but had no qualms about lying about who it was in order to get people to join up.

But even if the campus ministers had known about Maranatha before I told them, there was enough that they and KPIC would have been out of their minds to let this go to trial. In my mind, I expected that they would be forced to admit their deceit–and that Pastor Ron and his friends would be pushed out.

I planned to at least put out some feelers after I returned to campus in the fall. More and more, I was convinced that if I could simply get the case out there, everything else would roll automatically. Little did I know that I wouldn’t even get a chance to make the case.

To sue or not to sue?

As my sophomore year wound down, there were a lot of reasons to be optimistic. I was finally getting into the meat of my major–and a few steps closer to fulfilling my dream at the time to be a sportscaster. More importantly, though, I felt like I’d finally been able to enjoy myself in Chapel Hill after having a good chunk of my freshman year stolen from me by the Waymakers.

There were also a few reasons to be disappointed. Any chance of a third straight year of the campus jumping from fall through spring evaporated when, in rapid succession, Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter gave up their senior years to enter the NBA Draft. With Antawn and Vince, the Tar Heels would have been an odds-on favorite to win it all in 1999. Even now, many Tar Heel fans of my era think back to what might have been. Had everyone stayed when they were supposed to have stayed, we could have had a starting lineup in my freshman year of Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn and Vince. It’s probably just as well. That lineup would have been against the law.

But I had more immediate worries than worrying about the fortunes of the basketball team. I knew that the Waymakers had stormed through an economy-size loophole. Apparently a student group could not lie to university officials, but it could actively deceive students. Somehow, that didn’t add up.

I wondered–had I run out of options for holding them to account, short of shouting from the rooftops about their deceit and hopefully finding enough to alert their parents? But the more I thought about it, there probably was an option–suing KPIC.

Considering what I’d learned over the last two years–especially this year–a lawsuit was very doable. Remember, at the very least, I could prove that Pastor Ron was blatantly lying about his past in Maranatha–almost certainly to avoid getting the third degree about Maranatha’s atrocities in the 1980s. At the very least, I could prove that the campus ministers were perfectly willing to do Pastor Ron’s bidding even after learning this information.

I had to remind myself that this was the best-case scenario. At worst, it was entirely possible that the campus ministers had known this for some time before I told them and couldn’t be bothered to disclose that minor detail. I figured that if this got to trial, I would at least get a definitive answer to that question. But the mere fact that the best-case scenario was that the Waymakers had no problem with deceiving people was very telling.

I know what you’re thinking–why didn’t I haul them into court at some point earlier in the year? Well, you have to remember that I was concerned about them playing the persecution card. But by burrowing back into Waymaker, I had proof that everyone from the campus ministers on down was not only okay with Pastor Ron’s deceit, but were perfectly willing to help carry out this massive charade. That proof would have been enough to add Perry and Danielle Burkholder, Morgan Bates, Aaron Levinson and Rita Hamer as defendants along with Pastor Ron.

I also believed it would have been enough to keep control of the narrative–an important consideration when dealing with a fundicostal group. Instead of an innocent Christian group being persecuted, you would have a group that knew it was deceiving people.

As part of that effort to control the narrative, I didn’t let on about my plans to anyone. I didn’t want to chance the Waymakers finding out, and potentially being able to find a way to crawl through a loophole again. I knew they’d been caught unawares when I filed my complaint against them. After six years, and possibly 17 years, of putting kids back on their heels, it was fitting that they were the ones back on their heels for once. I wanted to keep it that way.

The more I thought about it, I believed I could force them into an out-of-court settlement. After all, the campus ministers were of fairly limited means. Perry and Morgan were newly married, and Morgan was married to Loretta, who still had two years to go at Carolina. Moreover, it was hard to argue with a Website run by Pastor Ron’s former friends at Maranatha.

That would also free me for my other junior-year ambition–running for student body president. The more I thought about it, these legal proceedings would be over rather quickly, so it wouldn’t hamper my campaign. When I first considered a suit, I thought I’d have to choose one or the other–and if it had come to that, I would have chosen the lawsuit, if only to make sure that KPIC couldn’t hurt anyone else again.

So as I returned home for the summer, I had every reason to believe that when I returned a couple of months later, Waymaker would be on borrowed time.